The plane is in quite good condition after being submerged for nearly seventy years. In recent years, a Dauntless dive bomber was pulled out of the lake, also in fair condition.
As well as a very rare find-an old Vought Vindicator torpedo bomber, many of which were destroyed at the Battle of Midway. The plane has of course been restored to what it would have looked like in those dark days of early 1942.
And how did so many old warbirds end up at the bottom of Lake Michigan, in the middle of the United States? In one of those oddities which America is famous for (like all of the outdoors stuff like parks being run by the Department of the Interior), the US Navy has its main training base between Chicago and Milwaukee. Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
During World War II, the Navy needed aviators that were qualified and trained to fly off carrier decks. The Navy also needed carriers in the Fleet, and not doing training duty off the Florida coast. So in a clever move, the Navy leased two lake steamships (in those days, steamships ran regular routes between the cities along the Lakes), the Greater Buffalo and the Seeandbee.
A trip to the Navy Yard, and the two steamships emerged as USS Sable and USS Wolverine.
At first glance these ships look like aircraft carriers, but neither vessel had a hangar deck or permanent aircraft handling facilities, so they were given a 'miscellaneous auxiliary' designation (IX) instead of the more familiar 'CV' for carriers. Both ships were given a 500 foot long deck (about the size of the flight deck on an escort carrier of the time) and homeported in Chicago. Prospective carrier pilots would take off from Glenview Air Station and fly east over Chicago and the suburbs out into Lake Michigan, learning to spot a carrier on open water and how to land on same in all weather conditions. The Great Lakes can be rough, and the decks of the Sable and Wolverine would pitch and roll just like they were the Yorktown, San Jacinto, or Kitkun Bay on the high seas.
On a calm day, one could stand on Navy Pier or Oak Street Beach and watch prospective aviators land, take off, or do bump and gos on the Great Lakes' very own Navy!
Most of these pilots were right out of primary training, and as fitting pilots in training, they occasionally made a mistake or two along the way, like hitting the barrier:
...or missing the wires and barrier altogether and putting their plane in the drink. Some few went down with their mistakes, but thankfully not too many.
Many thousands of pilots learned their trade on board Sable and Wolverine, as well as hundreds of landing signal officers and aircraft handlers. The two ships, while not ideal 'training carriers', served well until the end of the war, after which they were sold for scrapping.
Many people don't think of the Midwest as a great shipbuilding region, but during the war many of our 'fleet boat' submarines were built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and sailed through the Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean. The bulk of our tank landing ships were built in Seneca, Illinois, and moved down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. Yards up and down the Mississippi River valley built scores of the small patrol craft and auxiliary vessels the Navy needed to augment and support the fighting fleets.
Today, no active warships are stationed in the Great Lakes, but there are plenty of museum vessels dotting their shores: submarines Cobia, Silversides, Croaker, and Cod; cruiser Little Rock, destroyer The Sullivans, and on the Canadian side, their famous Tribal class destroyer HMCS Haida.
The Great Lakes Navy-a complete flotilla which even at one time could launch and land a very tiny air force!